I’m pleased to report that M. has improved her soccer game over the past few weeks. She’s still no Mia Hamm, but at least she’s doing some positive things during games. Tuesday night she even had an important milestone.

Last weekend she mastered the concept of getting back on defense. Unlike her earlier attempts, she was racing back towards her own goal each time the opponent took possession, then trying to at least get in the way as the ball approached the net.

For awhile.

She got kind of obsessed with the running back part and at the first hint of a change in possession, she would turn and run back towards the goal, not bothering to watch where the ball was. Then she quit making an effort to get the ball, watching it trickle by her when she could have easily cleared the ball away. By the end of the game she was just standing in the goal box, even when the other five players were at the other end of the field. If L. hadn’t fallen asleep on me, I might have yelled at her to get her ass downfield.1

After the game, I offered constructive criticism. I reminded her she can look over her shoulder while she’s running to see where the ball is. No need running all the way back if the ball is going the other way, right? And I reminded her that when she stays in front of the goal when her team is trying to score in the other one, she’s not being a good teammate and helping the other kids score.

That seemed to register.

Before Tuesday’s game, I stressed keeping an eye on the ball, staying close to the action, and clearing the ball towards the sideline on defense. She said she was going to try to score a goal. I said that was great, but let’s focus on what she does best.

So the game starts and as usual, it takes her awhile to get involved. She’s jumping in on defense at times, but also standing around looking clueless while the ball bounces right by her at other times. I yelled out to her to follow the ball, and she worked to get back in the action. If she faded away from the action when her team had the ball, I told her to at least run towards the goal in hopes the ball might come her way. A couple times she got the ball near midfield with a clear path towards the goal, but she would either knock it forward and then stand there, or whiff and watch as another player took it away.

Finally, suddenly, she found herself on the goal-side of a scrum and the ball popped right between her and the goal. She was less than ten feet from the goal mouth, and no one was in her way. One good strike and the ball is in the net. She’s going to score her first goal!

She either choked or got confused, because rather than kick the ball into the open goal, she calmly rotated her body 45 degrees and kicked the ball towards the sideline. I was on my toes, ready to cheer and high-five her. Instead I stood there with my jaw open, wondering what the hell she had just done.

She made it up moments later, though. She got back on defense and cut off the fastest kid on the other team, engaging and kicking the ball away before he could knock it into the goal. It was a heady, smart, and even aggressive play. I reminded myself that she’s always seemed better on defense and perhaps this was the start of something special.

Then, after a water break, she again decided to kick the ball to the sideline instead of into the open goal.

Sheesh, I guess I over-stressed the defensive coaching.

The games continued, her team getting the better of the action. If she could just put herself in position, this seemed like the night to get a goal. A couple times she was just feet away from getting a chance to knock the ball in, but each time was a step or two too slow.

Finally, she took the ball on the end line about five feet from the goal. She kicked it towards the goal and it bounced softly towards the post. A teammate came in and kicked at it, knocking it off the post, back to M.. She kicked again, and it slowly trickled across the goal line. Both she and the teammate went after it and kicked at the same time. Two feet hit the ball, and the ball hit the back of the net. Her first goal! Well, kind of. It’s half a goal, I guess, since we have no replay to review.

She gave me a shy grin, knowing she couldn’t really take credit for the goal but aware that she had played a role in the score.

Moments later, as the badass girl on her team raced toward the goal, M. screamed at her, “Give it to me! Give it to me!” She should know better than to think that girl would give up possession, but I like the way she was thinking.

All-in-all, she’s much better than she was a month ago. She still drifts and stares at the wrong field or talks to teammates while the ball whizzes past. But at least I’m not embarrassed to be her parent. And really, isn’t that what it’s all about?

I kid! She’s happy and having fun and getting better. That’s what matters. Honest.

  1. Not in so many words, of course.